Redesigning Nova Launcher
Brief: In late 2014, I started work with developer Kevin Barry to bring Nova Launcher's visual design up to date. The initial redesign described here entered public beta in March 2015.
Nova is one of the most popular custom launchers available for Android with over 10 million downloads. The app is a comprehensive launcher replacement, treasured in the community for its customization options, smooth operation, and lightweight footprint. So it was important to approach any design changes carefully, considering both how they might impact the app's large and diverse user base, and how they would help those existing users as well as newcomers.
For the initial redesign, our work has focused primarily in three areas: refining existing designs, fixing details, and adding new touches.
Refining existing designs
A launcher like Nova, with extensive options for customization, has a lot of opportunities for falling into confusing experiences. The settings and customization layouts in Nova were already well-organized, but there were still opportunities for tuning and refinement, along with complete layout makeovers.
The icon theming interface received a complete makeover, and the icon layout activity did too. Icons from the device are now previewed with the user's existing wallpaper. The shortcut edit dialog themes itself with colors from the icon, and "gardening" indicators on the home screen have been revised to subtle diamonds that fade in and out as the user decides where to plant each desktop item.
Elsewhere, menus have been given clear new iconography, and - wherever possible - users will get a visual representation of their changes before they're applied. The same wallpaper paradigm has been applied to things like the dock background selector, while app drawer and desktop grid changes have their own visual previews.
Fixing the details
Of course one of the main reasons Android users choose custom launchers is to get a better experience than the launcher that comes on their devices. This includes everything, down to the smallest details. Since Nova's code is based on Google's open-source Launcher3, we have opportunities to observe any details in Google's launcher that might need fixing or which provide opportunities for new exploration or refinement. One example of this is the set of portal assets, which control how folder elements look on the home screen.
In Google's launcher, the portal assets have cutoff shadows and unnecessary visual decor. The outer ring (on the far right) for instance has an extra gradient in its hollow center which complicates the graphic. We fixed both of these issues in Nova, and also created a set of crisper, cleaner assets that are scaled properly across all form factors.
We also switched all Nova's interface icons (including many new icons) to vector assets, greatly reducing the number of files needed to display the iconography, and keeping Nova's package size as small as possible.
One of the most exciting aspects of the redesign is the opportunity to add new touches to the interface. One new touch we've added is the app drawer search seen in the video above. With a swipe down, users can search the app drawer or quickly see recently installed or updated apps. This puts the drawer's search functionality out of the way (so users can focus on just the drawer without any extraneous icons floating nearby), and adds a fun visual treat to the experience as well.
We also integrated material-inspired animations into the custom icon picking interface, and other fun animations throughout the launcher (including a new circular app-opening animation).
We also improved the widget drawer. One common complaint we heard (and had ourselves) from Google's Now Launcher was the widget drawer. As late as Lollipop, the widget drawer was horizontally paginated, meaning it took way too long to get to the widget you were looking for. To solve this, we created a brand new layout for the drawer which grouped widgets horizontally but stacked each app vertically, meaning users could quickly scroll (not swipe) to the widget they wanted.
This is a feature that Google ended up implementing into its own launcher for the Android M release.
Since the initial redesign's launch, Nova's has continued to evolve.